Newspapers, Teaching

Wrestling with a broadsheet

Notebook 8 February 2017 | NEWSPAPERS | TEACHING

Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) is one of the few graphic design courses in the UK that offers students the option to specialise in editorial design via their BA degree in ‘Design for Publishing’. Regular readers may remember my review of their excellent degree show last summer. The course has a high success rate for graduates taking up careers in magazine, book and newspaper publishing as well as digital publishing and graphic design.

Each year, 2nd-year students are split into small groups and are set a project where they have to redesign pages 1-3 of the Sunday Times newspaper along with designs for a digital version for phone and ipad. A printed newspaper may be an old medium to work with but the strict design nature of the task means that the students quickly learn all about using grids, typography and type hierarchy as well as visual storytelling, picture editing and simple clear communication.

This year we encouraged the students to also think about how a redesign might be able to attract younger readers. Even the Sunday Times, the UK’s biggest selling quality Sunday paper, is slowly seeing its print readership ebb away – to put it bluntly, older readers are dying off and are not being replaced at the bottom end by a younger readership. The NUA students are an ideal target audience for the Sunday Times, but in this digital age, a printed newspaper is a completely alien medium to a large majority of them. When confronted by the current Sunday Times, just about every student wrestled with the broadsheet format and questioned whether the paper could be smaller in size. Designers Holly Stringer and Susanna Ward took a very logical approach to this problem and sliced the edges off the newspaper until they ended up with a size and shape that felt comfortable to use when held in both hands. Their designs, including their mobile solutions, are shown below.


Students Elena Kidman and Christian Kett also opted for a similar skinnier format – this time broadsheet depth but to the width of The Guardian’s Berliner size (a similar long, thin format is a common size for many newspapers in the USA). Elena and Christian’s solution is below. I like their bold, black and orange branding and their confident handling of typography and use of white space. And like Holly and Susanna’s designs, there’s an excellent synergy between the print and digital, through a simple use of colour and type.


The slimmer broadsheet format was also popular with students Emily Goreham and Matthew Adkin and their design solution is shown below. I love their bold masthead and sharp, modern and more youthful design.


The problem that the Sunday Times has is that they need to attract younger readers but without alienating their existing older readership and this is probably why they have been reluctant to change their format, unlike their sister paper, The Times, who moved from broadsheet to tabloid years ago. Chatting with the students at NUA, many expressed an interest in a much smaller handbag sized newspaper, that could be rolled up and slid inside a jacket pocket. But changing a newspaper’s size may be low down on a news publisher’s agenda – the conundrum they have is that they need to attract younger readers who are used to consuming their news online – and not paying a penny for it. I suspect that many publishers have no answer to this problem, have accepted that print is slowly dying, and are busy focussing on refining and monetising their digital offering as their solution for the Millennial generation. But before news organisations abandon print altogether it’s worth them investing some time and money in improving the design of their papers – design won’t reverse declining newspaper circulations but it might just help slow them down and keep the Grim Reaper waiting at the gate for a bit longer. We know that The Guardian and The Telegraph have both spent time on crafting and fine-tuning the look of their print, and digital offerings and they are both a pleasure to use. In comparison, the Sunday Times with its numerous supplements (Money, Travel, Home, Sport, Culture etc etc), seems to be a confusing mishmash of styles and fonts, and if the NUA students had had a lot more time, it would have been interesting to see how their design thinking could have developed further across the entire paper. (SEE FOOTNOTE BELOW*)

There are three British national newspapers whose design and layout is rooted firmly in the past – and they seem happy to stay that way. I’m thinking of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Sun (see example from The Sun pictured below). They all feature the same fonts and the same style of layout that they were using 20 to 30 years ago – and I can never quite fathom out why they haven’t invested just a little bit of time and money in making the design of their newspapers fresher and more relevant for the modern generation – not radical redesigns but a simple change of fonts and less clumsy handling of typography. Maybe next year, we can get the NUA students to tackle pages 1-3 of the Daily Express – now that would be a challenge!

The Sun newspaper: 1989, 2012 and 2017. Apart from a bit more colour, little has changed in 28 years. A question: would a car manufacturer sell new cars that looked and drove like cars from the 1980s? The Daily Express and the Daily Mail suffer with the same problem.

*FOOTNOTE  Since writing this post, The Sunday Times has been redesigned! Its new look first issue was published on 3 April 2017. The new design was done by editorial design gurus Mark Porter and Simon Esterson in collaboration with the design team at The Sunday Times, plus with a little help from myself on the redesign of the listings pages in the Culture supplement. You can read about the new look here.

More here on the design and life (and death) of The Independent print newspaper.

More here on the design of the ‘red-top’ newspapers.

And more here on how the newspapers handled their Muhammad Ali and David Bowie tribute editions.

Good online article here on ‘How newspapers lost the Millennials‘ by Alan D Mutter (‘Newsosaur’) 2014

Nick Paul is a visiting lecturer on the BA ‘Design for Publishing‘ course at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA). Nick also teaches editorial design to graphic design and journalism students at Sheffield Hallam Uni, Leicester De Montfort Uni and the Universities of Bedfordshire and Derbyshire